There is a kind of good losing when you are the one lost, absorbed fully conscious in the present. For me this occurred surprisingly with singing. Annie Dillard wrote in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek of the blessed state of wonder and what undoes it: self-consciousness.
Years after reading that book, I vividly recall Dillard's astonishment at the vision of the flaming tree and its sudden disappearance. The sight of the tree poofed into nothingness because she remembered herself looking at it. Annie wrote, "The tree vanished, uprooted from the spot and flung out of sight as if it had never grown..." I can almost hear the whine of a rewind button reversing the whole scene.
I wish I were not a self-conscious woman, but alas, my mind circles pretty tightly round a habitual topic: me. I believe the most common topic of most people's thoughts are themselves. Fortunately, meditation, exercise, and the arts can give us a break from the monotony of self-focus. This brings to mind one of my all time favorite moments when I forgot about myself. It occurred in the most unlikely of places: singing in the center of a bunch of people looking at me.
I marvel at performers who look like they are alone spontaneously creating as they perform. I fantasize about performing with unselfconscious presence, but I cannot remember it happening until last spring.
I attended a singing workshop led by a long-time friend and amazing musician, Debby Boland Watt, who gathers participants into Soul Circles. Think of Bobby McFerrin with whom she has studied and his style of singing, percussion plus improvisational vocals in a group, and you will have an idea of the experimental style in this workshop. Debby leads people in what she accurately describes as creating glorious, spontaneous a Capella music.
For hours that flew like minutes, Debby led us through multiple playful back-and-forth vocal rhythms and patterns. We took turns mimicking and leading with sounds that arose from some generous and creative source within. I laughed completely tickled when my husband followed my dramatic minor-key wail with his upbeat shooby-doo-wa. That captured our relationship with surprising accuracy.
I still sigh with contentment as I remember the end of that workshop. We took turns in the center as the other singers gathered tightly around. In this center spot, we spontaneously composed with the rest of the singers as our instrument. When it was my turn, I divided the singers into parts and gave each group their pattern which pleased me to hear how one group's sounds layered over the others'. On top of their woven blends, I floated words and notes that came from I don't-know-where. It was beautiful. I was in love with music, with the other singers, and the musician within me.
If you, spirited women, ever get the chance to join a song circle like this...do not delay. Jump in with both feet; you will find your creativity, and lose yourself singing.
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